Can you still play Saxophone and other Wind Instruments with a Brace or Retainer?

I was devastated at the age of 14 when I was told I needed to wear a fixed brace (retainer) for the next 2-3 years. Would it destroy my tone? Could I play the Saxophone anymore? Would I need to give up? If you or your child is going through this process I can tell you right now the answer to all of those questions is a resounding, NO.   

When I first got my Saxophone at the age of 10 I was completely addicted. I had heard the saxophone being played at a demonstration evening by a local instrument retailer. My mum tried her best to persuade me to take up the (much cheaper) Flute but I was destined for a shiny Sax. I rushed home, full with excitement. I hacked the thing together somehow and played for the next 6 hours straight. I practiced religiously relishing the challenges that the instrument brought and I enjoyed taking the exams. I had got almost full marks in all of my exams and had been praised for “an excellent tone” constantly. This praise brought on a sort of embouchure (lips, mouth, throat shape) paranoia, it was the holy grail, my ticket to fame, I didn’t want to sacrifice this!

I took my ABRSM diploma (DipABRSM) at the age of 15 whilst having a full on fixed top and bottom brace.

So here are my top tips to keep playing wind instruments whilst wearing a retainer (brace)...

1. Make sure to tell your Dentist/Orthodontist that you are a Wind/Saxophone player!

It is an absolute must that your Dentist knows that you are a Wind player whilst having your braces fitted. They will be able to make the best decisions based on your needs and ability to perform after the fitting. They will likely be able to proactively address issues such as rubbing or obstructive positioning of cables/bridges and offer tips on how to manage after fitting.

2. You will create more Saliva/drool for a while after having a Brace fitted.

You will likely find that your mouth will create far more saliva for while after fitting due to the mouth mistaking the brace for food. The excess saliva will help to cleanse the mouth of bacteria but can be incredibly annoying whilst blowing through a tube! As a brass player you’ll find you’ll need to release more saliva from the spit valves and sax/reed players will need to take apart their instruments and clean more often.

3. The more you play the sooner you’ll get used to the change.

Unfortunately, you’ll find that the more proficient you are on your instrument the greater the effect you’ll feel once having the brace installed. However, you will get used to the change and the more you practice, the quicker you will get used to it.

4. Allow time for extractions to heal

If you’ve had extractions you should wait a few days for bruising to go down before starting to play again. This will ensure that your gums have time to heal properly and will allow you to get playing pain free in no time.

5. Use Dental Brace Wax to stop rubbing or irritation

The most common complaint after having a brace fitted is rubbing against the lips and sealing your lips to play isn’t exactly going to help this! The best way to stop braces rubbing is by using products like Dental Brace Wax. This wx can be formed into small balls and placed over any parts of the brace that are rubbing.

You can purchase Dental Wax here:

Amazon UK link::

Amazon US link:

6. Break up your practice sessions

Instead of having that 3 hour mammoth session break your practice time into smaller chunks to limit sustained irritation and gum soreness. You will find that the brace will catch and your gums will be sensitive due to the movement of the teeth but small bursts will enable you to carry on playing and get results.

BONUS: Instrument Specific Tips

Reed Players (Saxes, Clarinets, Oboe, Bassoon etc) - To limit the amount of pressure you have to use whilst getting use to the change play on softer reeds and/or a narrower mouthpiece. This will enable you to play easily and not cause any further irritation.

Brass Players - Use a larger mouthpiece to spread the pressure ask your teacher about this possibility if you’re unsure!

So there you have it, stick with it, practice and you’ll get used to the transition between crooked and straight teeth in no time. Let me know how you get on!

All the best,